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Hawks start season with win

POSTED: November 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.
By Phelan M. Ebenhack | The Associated Press/

Atlanta Hawks guard Ronald Murray, right, takes a hard foul from Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard while putting up a shot Wednesday during the first half.

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando enters this season poised to make a move in a rugged Eastern Conference — but the Atlanta Hawks got in the first punch.

The Hawks surged to an early lead and held off the Magic in the fourth quarter Wednesday for a 99-85 win in the season opener for both teams. Joe Johnson scored nine of his game-high 25 points in the fourth and the Hawks handed Orlando only its second loss in its last nine home openers. Atlanta won its first road opener since 1987.

Josh Smith, playing on a sprained ankle, chipped in 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks. Dwight Howard scored 12 of his 22 points in the final quarter and added 15 rebounds to lead Orlando.

Before the game, the Magic honored Howard for winning an Olympic gold medal in Beijing and feted players and coaches from the original Magic team of 1989-90.

"They did a lot of celebrating before the game started," said Hawks forward Maurice Evans, who played for Orlando last season. "We came out with the right focus and took care of business."

Orlando fared better on the road than at home record last season in winning 52 games, and one of the Magic’s priorities this season was doing a better job defending their home court.

Atlanta led by as many as 19 before Orlando got within seven points in the final minute, but Mike Bibby hit three free throws after a flagrant foul by Hedo Turkoglu to seal the victory.

"Atlanta played a lot harder," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "They played like they really, really wanted to win it. We just showed up, I guess just thinking it would happen if we walked out there."

Said Atlanta coach Mike Woodson, "When you’re on the road you have to come out and try to establish yourself and not get hit in the mouth."

Van Gundy took the blame for the Magic’s offensive performance, parts of which he called "abysmal." Orlando shot only 37 percent from the field and committed 15 turnovers.

"I’ll take most of the blame for our offensive problems," Van Gundy said.

"I couldn’t find one offensive thing we could run that would give us any good ball movement, any good shots. I thought we were forcing plays."

Orlando struggled early, making only three of its first 18 shots.

Atlanta dominated on the boards early, and held the Magic without a point for nearly six minutes near the end of the first quarter in building a 23-8 lead. Rashard Lewis, Pietrus and backup point guard Anthony Johnson, who threw an alley-oop to Pietrus for a dunk, keyed a second quarter run that cut Atlanta’s halftime lead to 47-40.

Mickael Pietrus had 20 points, more than double his preseason average. Orlando signed him as a free agent to replace Evans, who started for the Hawks and had eight points and eight rebounds. The Hawks tried to clamp down on Howard, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. Lewis fouled out with 11 points and Turkoglu scored 13.

Atlanta’s bench dominated despite playing four fewer minutes, outscoring the Magic 27-11 and outrebounding them 16-9.

"When we made runs during the exhibition season, it was our bench that was doing it," Woodson said. "I feel very comfortable with playing guys off the bench."

"We got nothing off our bench," Van Gundy said. "It was a bad night all the way around."

Last season, Atlanta, the youngest team to make the playoffs, became only the second No. 8 seed in NBA history to force a seventh game against the top seed. Boston beat the Hawks in the opening round. The only other No. 8 to play seven games in its opening playoff series was Orlando, which lost to Detroit 4-3 in 2003.

Notes: Olympic gold medalist swimmer Ryan Lochte was honored before the game. Diana Lopez, a bronze medalist in taekwondo, was also at the game ... Howard had five steals, tying his career high. ... Hawks forward Marvin Williams missed the game serving a one-game suspension.



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